The Star Early Edition
Deadly exchange of fire
ISRAEL and Hamas exchanged heavy fire yesterday, with at least 25 Palestinians killed in Gaza, in a dramatic escalation between the bitter foes sparked by unrest at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Nine children were among those killed in the blockaded Gaza Strip that is controlled by the Islamist movement and 125 people there were wounded, local health authorities said.
More than 300 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants towards Israel since Monday, with more than 90% intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system, army spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said. At least six Israelis were injured.
Israel has responded with 130 strikes carried out by fighter jets and attack helicopters on military targets in the enclave, killing 15 commanders from Hamas, said Conricus, while the Islamic Jihad group confirmed two of its senior figures were killed.
More rockets were launched from the coastal enclave yesterday, as Hamas’ armed wing the Qassam Brigades vowed to turn the southern Israeli community of Ashkelon into “a hell”.
Conricus said Israel had no confirmation its strikes had impacted Gaza civilians, or whether the casualties there were caused by Palestinian rockets misfiring.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz authorised an army request to mobilise 5000 reservists if necessary.
Tensions in Jerusalem have flared into the city’s worst disturbances since 2017 since Israeli riot police clashed with large crowds of Palestinian worshippers on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadaan.
Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound in annexed east Jerusalem has left more than 700 Palestinians wounded, drawing international calls for de-escalation and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “all sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down”.
Diplomatic sources said Egypt and Qatar, who have mediated past Israeli-Hamas conflicts, were attempting to calm tensions.
Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned Israel’s Gaza strikes as “indiscriminate and irresponsible … and a miserable display of force at the expense of children’s blood”.